Puppet Playgroups at CMEE an interview by Paul Johnson

Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre has been a long-time fixture on the East End, entertaining parents and children alike since 2001. Originally intended for just the summer season, the non-profit quickly blossomed into a year-round institution offering puppet shows, playgroups, family workshops, and special events. We spoke with the organization’s founder, Liz Joyce, and discussed how she became a puppeteer, Goat on a Boat’s move to Bay Street, and offering Puppet Playgroups at the Children’s Museum this fall.

How did you first get involved with puppets?

It was kind of accidental. I went art school and I was certified to teach K through 12. I was heading in that direction, but I made some puppets around Christmastime. I brought a few to the Children’s Museum of Richmond and the woman in charge of programming invited me to do a puppet show. The first show was…eh…the second one was great. It combined all my creative talents and teaching and arts and performance. I built my company that summer, 1993, and have been doing it ever since.

When did you start Goat on a Boat and offering puppet playgroups?

I was living in Brooklyn and my sister had a place out here. When I started Goat on a Boat in 2001, it was just going to be for the summer. At the end of the season, a couple of moms approached me and encouraged me to offer a weekly playgroup. I had never been around such a young group before…I just had to figure it out as I went along. That’s how the puppet playgroups were built.

The playgroups are 45 minutes. We have circle time. We introduce ourselves. We sing some songs, play interactive games, and then we do a puppet show. They’re full of sound effects and visuals that make it enticing for the 3 and under crowd.

You recently moved to Bay Street Theater. How did that move come about?

Last fall, we moved out of our old space where we had been for 15 years. My Board thought it was time for a change. The Bay Street agreement included administrative support—being part of their team—and that was incredibly appealing. I was working with a spare small staff and got bogged down in non-creative work. Since the move, I’ve been able to do an an amazing amount. Working with Bay Street has been nothing but positive.

We’re thrilled to host Puppet Playgroups at the Children’s Museum this fall.  We noticed that it’s been a little while since you’ve done them. Why did you decide to offer them again?

I have people who have kids who are in high school come up to me and tell me, “It was the best time in my kid’s life,” “I’ve made lifelong friends,” and “Goat on a Boat really saved the day.” I felt sad that I wasn’t doing it anymore and wanted to do one for the kids who never got to experience it. I like knowing every little kid who walks by and their parents. It’s a way I connect to the community.

All for One - One for All

Arts & Leisure Section

This Friday, May 11 at 7 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Community House, Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre will give East End audiences a taste of Eastern Europe when the Alfa Theatre from the Czech Republic performs "The Three Musketeers" an award-winning show featuring eight puppeteers, two musicians and 30 hand-carved puppets. The puppet company recently traveled to the United States as part of a tour, and has found some spare time at the end of the tour to add on this show.

"It's a traditional hand puppet show, but the sets are incredible," says Liz Joyce of Goat on a Boat. "It's state sponsored theatre, so they have an on-set carver, live Czech folk music and a set manager. Most of the show is non-verbal pantomime. In between the scenes, the band will sing songs with titles projected over the stage."

Joyce notes that because audience members must be able to read the titles, the performance is geared toward adults and recommended for children over 8 years of age.

"It's a little longer than most shows and very sophisticated," she notes. "It's brilliantly performed. As far as traditional hand puppet theatre, most people here have never seen something so magically enchanting. We're really lucky to have it."